Tapestry is a form of textile art, traditionally woven on a vertical loom. Tapestry is weft-faced weaving, in which all the warp threads are hidden in the completed work, unlike cloth weaving where both the warp and the weft threads may be visible.
What materials are used to make tapestries?
Wool has been the material most widely used for making the warp, or the parallel series of threads that run lengthwise in the fabric of the tapestry. The width-running, weft, or filling threads, which are passed at right angles above and below the warp threads, thereby completely covering them, are also most commonly of wool. Wool has often been used in combination with linen, silk, or cotton threads for the weft. These materials make possible greater variety and contrast of colour and texture and are better suited than wool to detail weaving or to creating delicate effects. In European tapestry, light-coloured silks were used to create pictorial effects of tonal gradation and spatial recession.
Most of the Chinese and Japanese tapestries have both warp and weft threads of silk. Wholly linen tapestries were made in ancient Egypt, while Copts, or Egyptian Christians, and medieval Europeans sometimes used linen for the warp. Cotton and wool were employed for pre-Columbian Peruvian tapestries as well as for some of the tapestries made in the Islamic world during the Middle Ages. Since the 14th century, European weavers have used gold and silver weft threads along with wool and silk to obtain a sumptuous effect.
What are Middle Ages tapestries working techniques ?
Tapestry is first of all a technique. It differs from other forms of patterned weaving in that no weft threads are carried the full width of the fabric web, except by an occasional accident of design. Each unit of the pattern or the background is woven with a weft, or thread of the required colour, that is inserted back and forth only over the section where that colour appears in the design or cartoon. As in the weaving of plain cloth, the weft threads pass over and under the warp threads alternately and on the return go under where before it was over and vice versa. Each passage is called a pick, and when completed the wefts are pushed tightly together by various devices (awl, reed, batten, comb, or serrated fingernails in Japan). The weft threads so outnumber the warps that they conceal them completely. The warps in a finished tapestry appear only as more or less marked parallel ridges in the texture, or grain of the fabric, according to their coarseness or fineness.
The thickness of the warp influences the thickness of the tapestry fabric. In Europe during the Middle Ages, the thickness of the wool tapestry fabric in such works as the 14th-century Angers Apocalypse tapestry was about 10 to 12 threads to the inch (5 to the centimetre).
How tapestries are related painting?
Tapestry bears a close relation to painting; it is a pictorial art and often done on a large scale. Moreover, some of the best tapestries were designed by artists who were renowned painters. Unfortunately, this connection has all too often cast a shadow on the medium in immeasurable ways. Some have viewed tapestries as mere copies of paintings or as little more than interior furnishings, leading viewers and art historians to neglect them or at best consider them of lesser significance.
Because tapestries are made of pliable fiber, they can be rolled up and are thus far more easily transportable than framed paintings. This flexibility permitted royalty, nobility, church dignitaries, and other wealthy tapestry owners to bring pieces with them on their travels. Tapestries carried in this manner included relatively small hangings with biblical images that were used as votive images for daily prayer and moments of personal reflection.
In contrast, larger tapestries were hung in castles, abbeys, and mansions for decoration and to line drafty halls and rooms in an era before central heating. For major state and religious ceremonies, tapestries were also hung on the outside of buildings, suspended from balconies or attached directly to exterior walls, lining the streets.
Tapestry quality characteristics
The quality of a tapestry depends mainly on four variable factors: the quality of the cartoon from which it is copied: the skill of the weavers at translating the design into woven form; the fineness of the weave (the number of warps per centimeter and the grade of the weft, which directly affect the precision of detail and pictorial quality of the tapestry); and the quality of the materials from which it is made. In the late Middle Ages and the Renaissance, the cost of a tapestry varied enormously in direct proportion to its quality. One of the key factors was the manpower involved. Production was a labor-intensive process requiring the participation of many skilled weavers for the execution of large tapestries.
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What are the most important tapestries during Middle Ages?
Numerous documents dating from as early as the end of the 8th century describe tapestries with figurative ornamentation decorating churches and monasteries in western Europe, but no examples remain, and the ambiguity of the terms used to refer to these hangings makes it impossible to be certain of the technique employed. The 11th-century so-called Bayeux Tapestry depicting the Norman Conquest of England, for example, is not a woven tapestry at all but is a crewel-embroidered hanging.
Like the art of stained glass, western European tapestry flourished largely from the beginnings of the Gothic period in the 13th century to the 20th century. Few pre-Gothic tapestries have survived. Perhaps the oldest preserved wall tapestry woven in medieval Europe is the hanging for the choir of the church of St. Gereon at Cologne in Germany. This seven-colour wool tapestry is generally thought to have been made in Cologne in the early 11th century. The medallions with bulls and griffons locked in combat were probably adapted from Byzantine or Syrian silk textiles. The Cloth of Saint Gereon is thematically ornamental, but an early series of three tapestries woven in the Rhineland for the Halberstadt Cathedral were narrative. Dating from the late 12th and early 13th centuries, these wool and linen hangings are highly stylized and schematic in their representations of figures and space, with all forms being outlined. The Tapestry of the Angels, showing scenes from the life of Abraham and St. Michael the Archangel, and the Tapestry of the Apostles, showing Christ surrounded by his 12 disciples, were both intended to be hung over the cathedral’s choir stalls and therefore are long and narrow. The third hanging, called the Tapestry of Charlemagne Among the Four Philosophers of Antiquity, is a vertical wall hanging related to works produced by the convent at Quedlinburg in the German Rhineland during the Romanesque period of the 12th and early 13th centuries.
Fragments of a tapestry with traces of human figures and trees reminiscent of hangings described in the Norse sagas were found in an early 9th-century burial ship excavated at Oseberg in Norway. One of the major works of Romanesque weaving is a more complete tapestry dating from around the end of the 12th or early 13th century that was made for the Norwegian church of Baldishol in the district of Hedmark. Originally a set of wool hangings on the 12 months of the year, only the panels of April and May have survived. The pronounced stylization of the images relates these tapestries to those executed for Halberstadt Cathedral.
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